Sweet potato, red lentil and spinach curry

Sweet potato, red lentil and spinach curryHappy new year! It’s been a while since my last post, which isn’t just because I spent the Christmas break sitting around playing video games and stuffing my face with mince pies (I totally did, though). I haven’t really baked anything new in a while, so I thought I’d make my first post of 2016 all about this delicious and super healthy sweet potato, red lentil and spinach curry I made tonight – perfect for those well-intentioned new year’s resolutions.

This is another variation on my staple curry recipe, with some small tweaks to tip the spicing towards a heady note. I made a similar curry for my other half a while ago, and he was obsessed with the clove flavour coming through from the garam masala (which I make myself). My current garam masala blend isn’t quite so clove-y, so I’ve added some ground cloves to this recipe, along with extra ground cumin.

Sweet potato, red lentil and spinach curry
The great thing about this recipe is how flexible it is – you can swap out the sweet potato and/or carrot for butternut squash or standard potatoes (top tip: red potatoes work best in curries, as they seem to soak up the flavours better than the white variety), leave out the spinach if you don’t have any to hand, throw in some split yellow lentils or even chickpeas instead of the red lentils… Just adapt it to whatever you have in the kitchen!

Did I mention that this curry is super healthy? Yes? Well, I’ll say it again – this is so good for you. I’m pretty sure you get your five a day with this recipe, and the vegetables are packed with all sorts of lovely vitamins. If you stick to my measures, the curry itself clocks in at around 400 calories, with yogurt and whatever carbs you fancy (chapatis or naan are ideal, but rice works fine as well) adding a bit extra on top. I had a mini naan from Tesco with mine (I couldn’t quite face making chapatis after my first day back at work!), which only added 127 calories to the total.

Do give this a go if you want something comforting during the winter months, but without the fat. I promise that it’ll cheer you up! In the meantime, I’ll think about something interesting to bake for the next post… all suggestions are welcome!

Sweet potato, red lentil and spinach curry
Sweet potato, red lentil and spinach curry recipe

Serves 2, easily doubled

Approx. 400 calories per serving, not including rice/bread

  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 0.5 tsp cumin seeds
  • 0.5 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 small white or red onion, chopped
  • 1 thin green chilli, finely chopped
  • a 1-inch cube of ginger, finely grated
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
  • 0.25 tsp red chilli powder
  • 0.5 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 80g red lentils
  • 4 cherry tomatoes, quartered, or 1-2 larger tomatoes, chopped
  • 160g frozen spinach (or approx. 100g of fresh spinach)
  • 0.5 tsp ground cloves (or 4-5 whole cloves)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • a handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • salt, to taste
  • yogurt and rice/chapattis/naan, to serve


  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. If using whole cloves, add those too.
  2. When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the chopped onion and fry gently for a couple of minutes, being careful to not let the seeds burn.
  3. Add the green chilli, ginger, garlic, red chilli powder and turmeric and cook – still very gently – for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.
  4. Stir in the sweet potatoes, carrot, red lentils and tomatoes.
  5. Pour in enough hot water to just about cover the contents of the pan and bring to the boil, before putting a lid on the pan and simmering on a low heat for 20 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan, and top up with water if required (but try not to, as the spinach will release water anyway).
  6. Add the spinach and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  7. Take the pan off the hob and stir in the ground cloves, ground cumin, garam masala and coriander. Season with salt to taste.
  8. Remove the whole cloves if you used them (but don’t worry if you can’t find them – just warn any guests!). Serve with a dollop of yogurt and naan, chapattis or rice as desired.

First bake: blackberry and coconut olive oil cake

Blackberry and coconut olive oil cakeI made a bit of a faux pas earlier in the week and completely forgot that it was my turn to do the charity baking at work for Friday. Luckily, I’d already planned to do some baking this weekend, so I could promise to bring something in for Monday. I decided on a carrot, apple and raisin cake that I’ve made before and this rather lovely blackberry and coconut olive oil cake.

Granted, it’s not really blackberry season, but the supermarket had some going cheap and I couldn’t resist. I trawled through quite a few blackberry baking recipes before I found this one; there were a lot of blackberry and apple cake recipes but as there’s apple in the other cake I made, I wanted to do something a bit different. If you know me you’ll know exactly why this particular recipe caught my eye – the addition of coconut!

The cake was really easy to make, bar nearly 10 minutes of whisking the eggs and sugar together (I did this with an electric hand mixer on the lowest setting, but how I wished I had a KitchenAid!). Everything else is folded in, poured into the tin and baked. And that’s it.

Blackberry and coconut olive oil cake mix

Blackberry and coconut olive oil cake mix

It’s definitely recommended to take the time required to increase the volume of the eggs and sugar, because there’s no baking powder in this recipe – and the flour isn’t the self-raising variety! All of the lift comes from the air incorporated into the mix during the whisking, so do make sure you stay the course if you attempt this recipe.

I have to say, the cake tastes absolutely fantastic. The blackberries and coconut go wonderfully together, and the wholemeal flour doesn’t make the cake at all dense. It might be the variety of olive oil I used (bog standard supermarket brand), but the olive oil isn’t that discernible to the palate, so there’s no danger of an odd flavour intruding into the beautiful relationship between the coconut and blackberries.

Blackberry and coconut olive oil cakeIt’s worth noting how (relatively) healthy this cake is – no butter is used apart from for greasing the tin. If you cut the cake into 12 pieces, each portion is only 153 calories! It’s definitely a good recipe for everyone on the diet wagon this month, but it’s lovely even if you aren’t – it certainly doesn’t taste like a low fat cake. I can even imagine having this warm with cream as a dessert.

I just hope my colleagues are pleased enough with both cakes to forget about my moment of forgetfulness!

The recipe

From the London Bakes blog here: http://londonbakes.com/2012/07/blackberry-and-coconut-olive-oil-cake.html

First bake: honey and coconut lamingtons

Honey and coconut lamingtonsI’ve been using WeightWatchers online on and off for the last three years or so, losing over 2 stone in the process – but with still a few more pounds to go until I hit my target weight. The last few months have definitely been an ‘off’ period thanks to the upheaval of moving and an incredibly busy time at work, but I’m now determined to get back ‘on’ again!

It was with that in mind that I bought the July issue of WW magazine and immediately mentally bookmarked a recipe for honey and coconut lamingtons to bake as soon as possible.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with WW baking recipes. On the one hand, they seem so promising – what’s not to like about a low-fat, low-sugar cake that you can enjoy without feeling guilty?

However, the low fat and low sugar means the end product generally isn’t as satisfying as the real deal, especially for someone who bakes as often as I do. This means that I have, on occasion, turned promising-looking WW recipes into more guilt-inducing versions by swapping some ingredients for unhealthier but nicer ones.

I was actually forced to do that with this recipe due to not having a couple of the ingredients specified – namely, some WW-brand coconut yogurt and something dubious-sounding called ‘half sugar’. I swapped these out for full-fat coconut yogurt and golden caster sugar.

Honey and coconut lamingtons

Sponge squares, pre-embellishments

If you’ve never heard of them before, lamingtons are a popular cake in Australia/New Zealand and are basically sponge squares dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut. They do know how to tick all the right boxes, those folk down under. This WW recipe replaces the chocolate with a honey syrup and does away with butter in the sponge to keep the fat levels low.Honey and coconut lamingtonsThe cake itself went without a hitch and rose beautifully. I had some trouble with the honey syrup as it seemed to take an age to reduce down into an actual syrup – I eventually had to take it off the heat before it properly thickened because there wouldn’t have been any left if I’d left it simmering for much longer! However, I did manage to create some sort of sticky sauce so all was not lost.

Honey and coconut lamingtonsRolling the cakes in the coconut was extremely fun, although slightly frustrating as I couldn’t coat them as completely as I would have liked!

Honey and coconut lamingtonsThe end result? Extremely coconutty overall! Which is fine by me and my coconut-loving ways, but I’m slightly disappointed that the honey flavour isn’t as strong. Still, the cake itself is nice considering there’s hardly any fat in it, and as one of these is equivalent to half a slice of full-fat cake, I feel perfectly able to go ‘ooh, just one more’ without experiencing any pangs of guilt!

The recipe

From WeightWatchers magazine.

Makes 16 with a ProPoints value of 4 each if you follow my method (if you follow the original recipe and cut it into 15 as specified, it’s still 4PP each!)

  • 4 eggs
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 100g coconut yogurt (I used Asda’s own; the original recipe calls for a pot of WW coconut yogurt)
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 50g cornflour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g dessicated coconut

For the syrup:

  • 100g clear honey
  • 25g golden caster sugar (original recipe uses half sugar)
  • 175ml cold water
  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas 4/180C/fan 160C. Line an 18cm square tin (I used a 20cm tin) with baking parchment.
  2. Whisk the eggs until pale, creamy and thick. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar until thicker and creamier.
  3. Stir in the yogurt and sift in the self-raising flour, cornflour and baking powder, folding these into the mixture until well-combined.
  4. Pour the mix into the tin and bake for 30 mins until risen, golden and springy to the touch. Leave the cake in the tin for 5 mins, then remove and cut into 16 and leave to cool on a wire rack while you make the syrup.
  5. Warm the honey, golden caster sugar and cold water until the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil and leave at a vigorous simmer for 6-7 minutes (you might need longer) until the mixture has reduced by half and is thick and syrupy. Cool for a few minutes before using.
  6. Spread the coconut on a plate. Dip each cake square in the syrup, coating all sides, then roll in the coconut. Repeat for the other cakes and store in an airtight tin. The lamingtons will keep for up to 3 days.

Re-bake: carrot cake

Carrot cakeI’m back! Not only have I finally moved into my new house, but it was also The Very Hungry Baker’s first birthday on Tuesday! You would think this calls for a super special celebration cake, but as I’m still lacking a fridge and some basic baking equipment/ingredients, I had to settle for something more modest but very pleasing – carrot cake.

This is a light take on the stodgier carrot cake you might be familiar with, as it uses sunflower oil in place of butter (hence why it was the perfect recipe for fridgeless me at the moment!). Raisins add a bit of interest, along with orange zest, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.

Carrot cake mixI had to make a couple of substitutions (as is always the case these days) – I used light brown sugar in place of light muscovado and had to top up the self-raising flour with 20g of plain due to running out of the former. Luckily, this didn’t affect the rise or consistency at all.

The cake is lovely and moist – the carrot flavour is there, but not too in your face, while the raisins and orange are delicious. The spices were barely there for me, but I’ve been ill recently so my tastebuds aren’t what they usually are!

Carrot cake 2The icing is just orange juice and icing sugar, but the cake would definitely work well with a more decadent cream cheese or buttercream topping if you’re not too bothered about calories!

The recipe

From BBC Good Food’s 101 Cakes & Bakes, and also on the BBC Good Food website here: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3229/yummy-scrummy-carrot-cake

First bake: alchemist’s chocolate cake

Alchemist's chocolate cake

It’s been a bit of a funny weekend baking-wise. I made some salt caramel millionaire’s shortbread yesterday that didn’t turn out quite right, so I thought I’d blog about it the next time I make it (when it will hopefully be better!). I was desperate to bake something else this weekend, though, so I settled on this rather lovely chocolate cake recipe from Dan Lepard.

I think it’s called alchemist’s cake because it uses seemingly innocuous ingredients to create something rather decadent – it’s actually a low fat cake, but manages to be wonderfully moist and tasty despite the fact there’s no butter in it! The fat comes in the form of walnut oil, while the moistness comes from a bit of an odd ingredient – tinned pears.

You can’t taste the pears at all, though – it’s just a damn good chocolate cake. One of the things that probably elevates this over most other low fat chocolate cakes is the cocoa I used. I unexpectedly ran out of my usual bog standard cocoa powder and only had 25g of it left, so I topped it up with… *drum roll* … some Valrhona cocoa powder.

Valrhona cocoa powder

Valrhona cocoa powder

This is a top-end cocoa powder from a very highly regarded chocolate brand – Google it if you’ve never heard of it. I’ve never had Valrhona’s chocolate bars (apparently some aren’t as good as you might expect, but others are very good), but I bought this cocoa powder quite a while ago with the vague intention of using it in something special.

You can tell it’s of the highest quality – in the below photo, you can see the gorgeously dark, fine Valrhona on top of the paler standard cocoa powder I mixed it with.

Cocoa powder for alchemist's chocolate cake

Cocoa powder for alchemist’s chocolate cake

Anyway, the recipe was pretty easy, even though it involved a saucepan AND a blender! The result was a fantastic looking cake – you’ve got to admit it doesn’t look like a healthy option!

I decided to make things a bit more exciting by inventing a coffee and almond buttercream to layer it with (the original recipe just suggests serving as is, or with cream/melted chocolate). This was easy too – I gradually beat 70g of icing sugar into 50g of softened butter and 4.5 teaspoons of strong coffee (made with a couple of teaspoons of instant coffee dissolved in a splash of boiling water). Then I mixed in a drop of almond extract.

Alchemist's chocolate cake

Alchemist’s chocolate cake

Et voila! One formerly healthy and now slightly fattening alchemist’s chocolate cake with coffee and almond buttercream. I haven’t had a whole piece yet, but I’ve, erm, ‘sampled’ enough of the cake mix and buttercream to know this is going to be delicious! The team I manage at work will probably be delighted to know I’m going to bring some pieces into the office tomorrow for some impartial opinions…

Update: I have now sampled a piece of this cake. I honestly can’t believe how good it is for a low fat bake! It’s really very chocolaty and moist. I would recommend this recipe if, like me, you’re keeping an eye on your weight (6 WeightWatchers ProPoints per piece when cut into 10 pieces without buttercream, 8 ProPoints with the buttercream).

The recipe

From Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard, and also in his column for the Guardian (this version is slightly different though – the book recipe I used called for 3 medium eggs instead of 1 large egg!).

First bake: spiced honey cake

Spiced honey cake

There isn’t anything much more comforting than a spiced cake, especially on a dreary day or when you’re simply feeling a little under the weather. This recipe from Asda magazine caught my eye not just because of the spices, but also due to its use of honey – yet another baking ingredient I adore!

It’s a fairly simple cake to make; the wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, then there’s the fun bit where you stir some bircarbonate of soda into orange juice and watch it fizz up! The mix ends up being rather runny (see pic below), but it does firm up in the oven.

Spiced honey cake mix

Spiced honey cake mix

The cake was baked to perfection in 45 minutes. I managed to forget to retain a tablespoon of the orange juice for the icing, so I used a splash of syrup from a jar of stem ginger, a little orange blossom honey and some water instead. The recipe says to drizzle the icing over the cooled cake, which I did in careful diagonal lines to begin with, but then ended up accidentally splashing a fair bit in the middle of it, so just drizzled the rest over any old how – hence the messy appearance!

The finished cake is rather gingerbread-y in texture, but still sufficiently soft enough to be classified as a cake. It’s wonderfully light – there’s no butter in this recipe, just sunflower oil. The spice flavour is nice and strong, but doesn’t overpower the honey.

Spiced honey cake

All in all, this is an excellent cake and one I would make again. It’s highly recommended if you too love spiced cakes, and also if you’re trying to reduce your fat intake – there’s only 4.1g of fat (including 0.6g of saturated fat) and 5 WeightWatchers ProPoints per piece! So go ahead and treat yourself without feeling guilty…

The recipe

Taken from Asda magazine (July 2012).

Serves 16

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 level tsp baking powder
  • 1 level tsp mixed spice
  • 1 level tsp ground ginger
  • 1 level tsp ground cinnamon
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 175g orange blossom honey
  • 75ml sunflower oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • finely grated zest of half an orange
  • 1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 100ml freshly squeezed orange juice, plus 1 tbsp for the icing (I used 1 tsp stem ginger syrup, 1 tsp orange blossom honey and a splash of water instead of the orange juice in the icing)

1. Line a 21cm shallow square cake tin with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder, mixed spice, ginger and cinnamon together in a bowl. Stir in the caster sugar.

3. In another bowl, beat the honey, oil, eggs and zest. Stir into the flour mixture.

4. Stir the bicarbonate of soda into the orange juice. It will start to fizz up. Immediately stir into the cake mixture until evenly mixed. Pour into the tin – it’s a very runny mixture but firms up when cooked.

5. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly pressed. Cool on a wire rack.

6. Mix the icing sugar with the extra orange juice, then drizzle on top of the cake. Cut into 16 squares.

First bake: blackberry muffins

Blackberry muffins

Here’s a rather shamefaced confession for this particular baker to make: I’ve re-joined WeightWatchers in an attempt to shed the pounds that have crept on ever since I moved back home to be faced by my mum’s awesome curries night after night. Don’t worry (if, indeed, you are worried) – I will keep baking lots of bad-for-you delights, although I won’t “test” as much as I used to. I’m making a small concession this time round, though, by trying a WW recipe to help get me on the right track.

I’ve actually had quite a good experience with WW baking recipes in the past (but not so much with their rank veggie lasagne and some sort of low-fat cheesy pasta that, quite rarely for my dustbin of a family, was unanimously voted The Most Disgusting Thing Ever). I actually prefer WW’s gingerbread to a richer version I’ve also made, and there are also some good cookie recipes. This muffin recipe caught my eye because they’re only 4 ProPoints each, and also because I very rarely bake with blueberries, for some reason.

Unfortunately, my local supermarket didn’t have any blueberries, so I settled for some blackberries instead, which again I don’t bake with very often. I followed the rest of the recipe to the letter, even going so far as to buy skimmed milk, which I would normally denounce as milk-coloured water.

Blackberry muffin mix

Blackberry muffin mix

The muffins were really easy to make, although I felt a little under pressure by the recipe demanding that I spoon the mix into the tin “quickly”. I’m very slow at transferring muffin mix to paper cases, because I’m obsessed with making sure each case has an equal amount of mix (funnily enough, the muffins always end up being different sizes anyway).

As you can see from the pictures, the muffins were well browned by the time 20 minutes was up. The blackberries held their shape pretty well, although as my brother found out to his dismay, they went soft enough to unexpectedly fall out of the muffins when broken in half!

Blackberry muffins

The muffins are, rather surprisingly, pretty tasty. I did complain that they weren’t particularly sweet on my first bite, but then I got some juicy blackberries and all was right with the world again. The texture is very light, which is to be expected when using margarine, yogurt and skimmed milk in place of good ol’ butter, but not in an unpleasant way – far from it, in fact.

All in all, I really like these muffins and would make them again, hopefully with blueberries next time just to see what they’re like with them in. I would recommend these if you too are trying to get rid of some excess weight, but can’t do without cakey delights altogether!

Blackberry muffins

The recipe

Find it on the WeightWatchers site here: http://www.weightwatchers.co.uk/food/rcp/index.aspx?recipeid=7007752